Brockton schools on track for huge deficits this year and next. Why? – Enterprise News

BROCKTON — A final report of the state-funded review of Brockton Public Schools’ budget deficit has been completed and released, showing not only that the school district ended its Fiscal Year 2023 with an $18.3 million deficit, but projects an additional $19 million to $25 million shortfall for its current Fiscal Year 2024 budget and a projected $7 million to $19 million deficit in its Fiscal Year 2025 budget.

According to the findings outlined in the report, which was conducted by data analytics company Open Architects and paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), “BPS is projected to exceed its $231,113,157 General Fund budget by $19 to $25 million (8 – 11%)” as of Feb. 2024.

“Our analysis highlights numerous fiscal challenges faced by BPS, ranging from budget mismanagement and inadequate fiscal controls to complex contract and benefits administration, which contribute to the ongoing budget deficits and fiscal pressures,” said the Open Architects report.

“What this report makes clear is that, while there are numerous significant and growing costs associated with providing students with a holistic education, we have not done a good enough job to plan for and mitigate those costs, nor have we taken enough care to adhere to budgeting best practices,” Acting BPS Superintendent James Cobbs said in a public statement.

Cobbs took the role of interim superintendent after current BPS Superintendent Mike Thomas took a medical leave in August 2023 when the budget deficit was first announced. Thomas recently informed the Brockton School Committee he was “well enough to return to work,” but the committee voted instead to place Thomas on administrative leave.

“We owe it to the Brockton community to do better, and we are steadfast in our commitment to work with our city and state partners to ensure that our budget and spending processes are rebuilt from the ground up in a way that’s sustainable and – most importantly – keeps us moving toward our goal of providing Brockton’s students with the best possible education,” said Cobbs.

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Fiscal Year 2023 budget deficit

Just before the 2023-2024 school year began, Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan announced that BPS had overspent its budget for fiscal year 2023 — which ended June 30, 2023 — by roughly $14.4 million. Since Open Architects began their audit of the budget, that number has grown to more than $18 million.

Most of the deficit stemmed from special education, personnel and transportation costs.

“Open Architects found that the core drivers of the district’s budget deficit are costs associated with transportation, special education services and select employee benefits. Additionally, it outlined shortcomings in the district’s internal budgeting and spending processes,” said a statement from the city of Brockton.

“Like with any of the challenges facing our city and our schools, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Cobbs said. “However, this report provides us with critical insight into where we’ve gone wrong and a roadmap for improving our processes. It also affords us the opportunity to identify strategic spending reductions we can make in the short term to avoid a dramatic deficit this fiscal year while ensuring that students do not suffer as a result of these fiscal challenges.”

Fiscal Year 2024 projections

With four months left in the 2024 fiscal year, Brockton Public Schools is projected to have a deficit of at least $19 million when it comes to a close on June 30.

The report states: “Transportation costs are expected to reach $22.5M, which is twice the amount of the original $11.2M appropriation. As of January 31, BPS had spent 95% of its original appropriated FY2024 transportation budget.”

“The primary issue is that the district insourced transportation services several years ago, yet never created a proper budget to account for the full cost of services. Cost overruns were identified in out-of-district transportation, bus drivers, homeless transportation, in-district special education transportation, and vehicles.”

In addition to transportation, the school district’s special education budget was widely underfunded by nearly $4 million. BPS ran a $2.8 million deficit for out-of-district placement tuition costs and paid almost $1 million in liability costs for over 58,000 hours of unmet service needs for students with disabilities that are required by the state.

The district has also signed personalized, nonunion contracts with over 130 Brockton Public Schools employees “that allow for individualized benefit packages and working conditions” like overtime pay, vacation time buybacks and salary increases.

Brockton Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Troy Clarkson called these contracts “extraordinary” in their “generosity” and inconsistent with the way such contracts are usually done at the school committee meeting on Tuesday, March 5.

He gave an example in which the same person might be in line for a retirement incentive but also a longevity bonus. The contracts also have generous sick time and vacation buy-back clauses, among other things.

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On track for giant deficit next year

According to the findings, BPS is projecting another multi-million dollar deficit for next year’s budget in 2025 in order to fund certain programs and staff contracts.

Based on the governor’s fiscal year 2025 budget, BPS is expecting to be allocated $250,523,631, which is an increase of $19.4 million or 8.4%. This increase is due to the growing transportation costs for Brockton, which the district projects will total $23.4 million, a 108% increase overt the original fiscal year 2024 budget.

Despite the larger amount appropriated to BPS, the district still expects a future budget loss.

“The issues identified in the report are unacceptable,” Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan said.

“The city is taking action — with guidance and assistance from the Commonwealth — to address these issues in the short term, and implement safeguards to ensure that nothing like this happens again. Working together, we will stabilize the Brockton Public Schools’ and the City’s finances, and ensure that Brockton’s students, teachers, and citizens have the resources they need to succeed and thrive.”